A new bill introduced in the US Congress by Republican Representative Mark Kirk would call for the US government to demand that a United Nations agency serving Palestinian refugees provide a count of how many were actually displaced by the creation of the state of Israel, and how many are the descendants of those displaced. The count would then be used to deny the universally-recognized right of return to the descendants of the original refugees (children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren).Millions of Palestinian refugees, both the originally displaced refugees and their descendants since 1948, live in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, and are denied full citizenship of any nation. After the displacement of approximately 3/4 of a million Palestinians for the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) was created to provide assistance, protection and advocacy for the refugees. Another wave of refugees was created in 1967 when Israel took over more territory and displaced hundreds of thousands of additional Palestinians.

These two forced displacements, and the refusal of the Israeli government to allow these refugees the right of return to their homeland for six decades has resulted in the largest refugee population on earth. Due to population growth among the refugees, the number now stands at approximately five million, many of whom do not have full citizenship in any country. In Lebanon, Palestinian refugees (including descendants) are forbidden from constructing permanent homes with real building materials, and are not allowed to hold many jobs.

The proposed US legislation, which is part of the 2013 Foreign Appropriations Bill, will challenge the refugee status of the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of refugees displaced in 1948 and 67, and will call on the United Nations to withdraw their status as refugees. This would leave millions of Palestinians stateless, with no status as humans, and no way to receive the assistance they need to survive.

The State of Israel has long called for the denial of Palestinian refugees, both the original displaced population and their descendants, the right of return to their homes. Israeli officials consider the indigenous Palestinian population to be a ‘demographic threat’ that ‘threatens the Jewish character of the state’. If the Palestinian refugees were allowed to return, they would constitute a majority of the population of Israel, and Israeli officials from both right-wing and left-wing parties have stated that this must not be allowed to happen.

The peace group Two Peoples One Future wrote about Representative Kirk, “According to former AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) staffer – now critic – MJ Rosenberg, Mark Kirk cultivated a relationship with AIPAC since he was a Congressional aide. According to Rosenberg, between 2000 and 2010 – Representative Mark Kirk received $1,025,437 from ‘pro-Israel’ PACs, making him #7 out of all members of Congress and #1 of all House members.”

US-based human rights activists have pledged to organize a campaign to oppose the measure.